Bloomberg Draws a Blueprint for a Greener City

Bloomberg Draws a Blueprint for a Greener City


Published : April 23, 2007 / The New York Times

In a quarter-century plan to create what he called “the first environmentally sustainable 21st-century city,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed a sweeping and politically contentious vision yesterday of 127 projects, regulations and innovations for New York and the region.

The plan is intended to foster steady population growth, with the city expected to gain about 1 million residents by 2030, and to put in place a host of environmentally sensitive measures that would reduce the greenhouse gases it generates.

Mr. Bloomberg also set the parameters for what could be a large piece of his legacy as mayor. In an address outlining the plan yesterday at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, Mr. Bloomberg likened it to the first blueprints for Central Park more than 100 years ago and the construction of Rockefeller Center in the Great Depression.

Many elements of the plan will face political hurdles in Albany and will depend on huge financial commitments from the state and federal governments, not to mention future mayors. To start, Mr. Bloomberg intends to add hundreds of millions of dollars to his proposed $57 billion budget for the next fiscal year, his aides said yesterday.

“Our economy is humming, our fiscal house is in order and our near-term horizon looks bright,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “If we don’t act now, when?”

The mayor chose Earth Day to give his speech and to release the details of his proposals. As widely predicted, the plan calls for an $8-a-day charge for people who drive their cars into Manhattan below 86th Street. The proposal for “congestion pricing,” which City Hall believes would reduce traffic and auto emissions while raising money for transportation projects, has already been met by harsh criticism from drivers and some officials outside Manhattan.

Other proposals in the plan, dubbed PlaNYC by the mayor’s staff, range from building huge capital projects and creating government authorities to implementing relatively benign initiatives in housing, transportation and land use.

One proposal calls for investments of $200 million a year from both the city and state to create a financing authority that would assure the completion of major projects like the Second Avenue subway. New authorities, with representatives from the city, state and private industry, would push for improved energy efficiency in new buildings and for the replacement of energy-guzzling power plants.

The city also would encourage the construction of platforms over railyards and highways to create land for housing. In addition, the plan would open 290 schoolyards as playgrounds, eliminate city sales taxes on energy-efficient hybrid vehicles, increase the number of bike paths and cultivate mussels to suck pollution out of the rivers.

Much of the plan, including its most costly proposals, would require state approval. Gov. Eliot Spitzer did not attend Mr. Bloomberg’s address, although another governor — Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who appeared via videotape on two large screens — introduced the mayor.

Governor Spitzer, in a brief statement released late yesterday, said: “The mayor has released a comprehensive plan with admirable goals, especially the commitment to reduce energy consumption, and we look forward to reviewing the plan.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s initiative could be vulnerable to changes at City Hall and to setbacks in the economy.

But several observers praised it as a much-needed master plan for growth and the environment in a city that has let too many decades pass without such a vision.

“How you follow through on this is a huge political question, but it is a good time to be pushing it,” said Diana Fortuna, president of the Citizens Budget Committee. Ms. Fortuna was among several hundred people invited to the mayor’s speech, many of them associated with the 150 advocacy groups that had provided recommendations to Mr. Bloomberg.

The mayor acknowledged that the proposal for congestion pricing was the most contentious, calling it “the elephant in the room.”

Under the plan, the city would charge $8 for cars and $21 for commercial trucks that enter Manhattan below 86th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The charge would be $4 for drivers within Manhattan, and several exemptions would apply. No one would be charged on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive or the West Side Highway. There would be no charge for moving cars to comply with alternate side parking, and there would be no charge for taxis.

A similar system is in place in congested parts of London and Singapore, where Mr. Bloomberg said it had been shown to reduce congestion and improve air quality. In Manhattan, cameras and other equipment at intersections would deduct money from a driver’s E-ZPass account or photograph a car’s license plate, with the driver given two days to pay the fee through the mail, online or at certain stores.

The city said yesterday that it intended to seek state approval for a three-year test of congestion pricing and would need to spend $225 million to buy and install traffic-recording equipment. Officials said the city and state could jointly apply for grants from the United States Department of Transportation to cover those costs.

“The federal government really does want to be helpful,” Mr. Bloomberg said, in a rare departure from his prepared text.

Later, Mary E. Peters, the United States secretary of transportation, issued a statement praising the plan as “the kind of bold thinking leaders across the country need to embrace if we hope to win the battle against traffic congestion.”

The Nassau County executive, Thomas R. Suozzi, who has many constituents who commute by car to Manhattan, also was enthusiastic. “People’s first reaction is they don’t want to pay,” he said. “But getting them to switch to mass transit benefits us all.”

Mr. Bloomberg also called for improvements in express bus service and other public transportation in neighborhoods with little access to the subway, and where people are most inclined to drive into Manhattan for work or shopping. He said the city would complete those improvements before anyone is charged in the congestion pricing system.

Still, the reaction of many officials from outside Manhattan was cool. “I wonder if it is another hidden tax on working people,” said Adolfo Carrión Jr., the Bronx borough president. “I worry about people who need to use their cars to get to work.”

Money raised through congestion pricing would be added to the $400 million a year in combined city and state funds that the plan seeks for the creation of a new financing authority for transportation projects. The Sustainable Mobility and Regional Transportation Authority would issue bonds to award matching grants for projects by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and other agencies.

Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that the added financial muscle was needed to close a $31 billion funding gap in 18 projects that are planned or underway, including the Second Avenue subway.

The new authority would be governed by a board with equal representation from the city and state. But it could provide a mechanism for Mr. Bloomberg and future mayors to reclaim some power over planning and capital expenditures by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It is also a joint city and state agency, but one that has often been dominated by appointees of the governor.

In a prepared statement yesterday, officials from the authority said: “We applaud the mayor’s commitment to the transit system and will carefully analyze the city’s proposal to understand its impact on the M.T.A.”

Two other authorities, a New York City Energy Planning Board and an Energy Efficiency Authority, would be created to marshal investments that would finance energy conservation efforts and the construction of efficient power plants.

The plan also calls for a surcharge on electrical power customers, averaging $2.50 a month, with the money used to finance grants and other incentives for retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient materials. The new energy planning board, governed by city and state officials and utility executives, would make long-term commitments to buy energy from companies or investors who build efficient power plants.

In another measure, the city would plant more than 1 million trees in the next 10 years. It would offer incentives — intended to capture storm water runoff — for larger and deeper sidewalk tree pits and green roofs.

The plan calls for zoning changes in many neighborhoods with access to public transportation that would allow for larger homes and a higher density of housing, although such changes are often resisted in those neighborhoods.

It pledges that every New Yorker would live within a 10-minute walk from a park, and it calls for small public plazas in each community board district that does not have a park.

It would replace or modernize diesel-powered school buses in the city fleet and offer incentives to get heavy diesel trucks off the road. And it would commit city funds to clean up 7,600 acres of so-called brownfields, where soil has been polluted by chemicals or industrial materials. Some of the land would become parks.

Besides the introduction by Governor Schwarzenegger, Mr. Bloomberg’s address yesterday included videotaped praise by Tony Blair, the British prime minister, who made it clear the initiative was capturing the imagination of urban planners — if not necessarily the support it will need in Albany, Washington and neighborhoods outside Manhattan.

“This would mark out New York as a global leader in halting climate change,” Mr. Blair said.